Thoughts in the Aftermath of the Alabama Tornadoes

It’s a bizarre experience, driving down a familiar road where everything looks like it does on every other day, then rounding the corner and seeing a town that looks like it was just attacked by an alien armada.

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That’s what we have here in central Alabama: the part of the Michael Bay movie you never see, what’s left after the battle scene while Megan Fox and Optimus Prime are having a latte back at the hotel.

Now that all the debris has come to a full stop, I’m trying to collect my thoughts on the week. It’s not easy to do, commenting insightfully on things I’ve never seen before and hope to never see again. But here are some thoughts from the land of 288 ground zeroes.


I’ve found that getting your power turned back on after an outage has less to do with where you live and more to do with who you live next to.  I used to live a couple of blocks away from an area of Birmingham called Greystone—a tony, nouveau riche gated community. They were apparently on the same power grid that I was, because we had some pretty severe storms during that period, and my power never flickered off for more than a few minutes at a time. The people in Greystone either knew the right people to call, or they in fact were the right people to call.

But after you make the call it comes down to the guys working on the lines, and they have been spectacular. We’ve also been blessed with a lot of help from all over. I’ve seen several utility trucks from out of state. Saw a convoy from Pennsylvania just today. Thanks, guys.

Good Idea

I’ve never done business with Farmers Insurance, but I’m more inclined to now. For the last couple of days, a little, single-prop airplane has been circling the North Birmingham/Fultondale area, pulling a banner that lists contact numbers for Farmers. Good on them.

The Media

Note well, the local TV and radio broadcast media performed heroically during the storm and the aftermath. I think some radio people were on the air for two days straight.

This is when you’re glad that there’s still such a thing as a broadcasting professional: when you need a calm voice listing the facts under pressure. During the storm they did a great job of explaining where the tornadoes were and when you could expect them to get to your neighborhood.  In the aftermath they provided the info that everyone needed as they made their way out of hiding: which roads were passable and which weren’t, where to get gasoline, where to find shelter. (And as always, Spann bestrides the severe weather world as a colossus. All hail Spann!)

On the downside, it galled me to hear some people on the radio, before the winds had even died down, warning people that they’d better not try price gouging on necessities like bottled water and gasoline.

I’m a big supporter of price gouging in a disaster area, and here’s why: If there’s a sudden need for, say, gasoline in an area, people outside that area might think, “Hey, I could buy up a bunch of gasoline, drive to that area, and sell it at a big profit!” If I’m in that area and I need gasoline, I might have to pay those people $8 or $10 a gallon for it. But even so, I would have gasoline.

Now imagine those same people are told, “We in this area need gasoline, but you better not try to sell it to us at a really high price! If you do, we’ll give you such a pinch!” Those people would then not be motivated to buy a bunch of gasoline and bring it to the area. Know what I would have then? No gasoline!

Profit motivates people who would otherwise not be motivated to go into a disaster area with essential supplies that victims would otherwise not have at all. If it’s a choice between paying $500 for a generator that I can use right now or paying $200 for a generator that won’t be here until a week from next Tuesday, here’s my $500.

Also on the downside, the first round of questions at the first press conference I heard was an absolute joke. Several reporters, from supposedly reputable news organizations, all asked basically the same question: Since there was so much death and destruction, does that mean that mean that preparations or warning systems failed somehow?

Of course, it was handled very diplomatically by the governor. But I wanted somebody to respond like this:

Do you clowns not realize what has just happened? Two once-in-a-lifetime storms have just ripped through the state within hours of each other. It is only because of spectacularly thorough preparations and warning systems that thousands of people aren’t dead! Consider in your pea brains the possibility that nature is a fickle mistress, and when she decides to kick you, all you can do is curl up in a ball and cover your face until it’s over. 

Then I wanted the governor to Three-Stooges slap everyone in the front row and walk out.

Global Warming Activists Are Contemptible Pigs

A liberal website (which will get no linky from me) wrote a post that essentially said the South had it coming because they don’t buy into the global warming line. (See reports here, here, and here.) It’s great that modern technology gives them the ability to publish stuff like that while the bodies under the rubble are still warm. Before the internet, it was hard for anybody to be that big of an asshole.

Catastrophes with Real People

In the movies, when there’s a natural disaster or a rampaging giant monkey or anything like that, people instantly turn into howling, crying, arm-flailing poltroons that trample everything in their path and loot everything that doesn’t get trampled. It’s such a cliché, that you might assume that it’s true.

But again and again, we see that it just doesn’t happen that way. When there’s a crisis, people help each other. They support each other. Straight away, they get back on their feet and start making order out of the chaos.

Regular people grabbed their own shovels and chain saws and ran to disaster sites as fast as they could get there. Professional relief workers had to get on the radio and tell volunteers to stay away until they could get the situation under control.

I could be a homer and say that’s something great about Alabama, but it’s really something great about America, and quite possibly, though I don’t have as much evidence to confirm this, it’s something great about humans. Yes, we can be cruel and selfish, but we can also be noble and generous. It’s cliché to say that greatness will come from this tragedy, but this cliché is the true one.

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